Ottavio Cinquanta, elected President of the International Skating Union (ISU) in 1994, will belatedly step down this week as the ISU Congress in Dubrovnik elects his successor.
Despite frequent proposals over the past 20 years that there should be a limit of four-year terms in which one President can preside, the only restriction on the office has been that no one shall serve beyond 75 years. Cinquanta is 77.
The Italian, who will also cease to be a member of the International Olympic Committee – a position he gained in 1996 - once he relinquishes his position at the head of an international federation, announced his intention to leave back in October 2013, claiming it was time to “give way to others.”
As the Dubrovnik changeover approaches, four others are in contention to replace the man who arrived in his current position in the wake of the hugely successful skating programme at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics - and who has subsequently endured widespread criticism as the sport has suffered from declining interest and damaging judging scandals.
First to throw his hat onto the ice was Didier Gailhaguet, the French Ice Sports Federation President. He has since been joined by the ISU vice-president for speed skating, Jan Dijkema of The Netherlands, György Sallak of Hungary, who is the ISU development co-ordinator and most strongly associated with short track skating, and Christopher Buchanan of Britain.
Gailhaguet’s candidacy has been advanced despite the fact that he was suspended from the sport for three years in the wake of the judging controversy in the figure skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
That scandal reverberated throughout the sport, and indeed the Olympic Movement, very nearly - but not quite - shaking the ISU President out of office.
After the nine judges had voted 5-4 to award gold in the pairs figure skating not to the Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier but to the Russian pairing of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze there was a cacophony of booing and whistling in the arena and widespread - although largely Western - insistence that the result was unfair.
Suspicions were roused about the voting of the French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, and after being questioned when she returned to the officials’ hotel by Britain’s chair of the ISU Technical Committee, Sally Stapleford, she reportedly had an emotional breakdown. She alleged she had been pressured by Gailhaguet to vote for the Russian pair as part of an arrangement to help French couple Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in the subsequent ice dance competition - which they went on to win, with Russia taking the silver.
Le Gougne reportedly repeated this at a post-event judges’ meeting the next day, but in a later signed statement she denied taking part in such a deal and added that she believed the Russian pair deserved their win. Meanwhile, the Canadian team protested.
In the midst of this confusion, Cinquanta produced a performance at a press conference that has gone down in Olympic history for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the key quote from the President whose background was in speed skating rather than figure skating was this: “I don’t know figure skating so well.”
He then disclosed that the event referee, Ronald Pfenning, had filed an official complaint about the judging.
His performance in response to the question of whether the gold would go to the Canadians if cheating were shown to have taken place also failed to cover him in glory. His first response was to say no. Then he said, "It's almost unheard of that this would be done." And, finally: "In the ISU regulations, it's not printed that a result cannot be changed."
Two days later Cinquanta sat alongside the then IOC President Jacques Rogge to make the announcement that Sale and Pelletier’s medals would be upgraded to gold, with the Russians keeping theirs as there was no evidence of them having done anything wrong.
On April 30, 2002, Le Gougne and Gailhaguet were suspended by the ISU for three years and barred from the 2006 Winter Games for their roles in the scandal.
On July 31, 2002, a Russian organized crime boss was arrested by Italian authorities in Venice on US charges that he had masterminded the fix, but he was released from custody without being charged as preparations were being made to have him extradited to the United States.
The following year a group of top skating officials, including Stapleford and Pfenning, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the ISU was being run and announced the formation of the World Skating Federation as a rival organisation.
The move was strongly resisted by the ISU, which warned skaters not to associate with the new organisation, and those behind the breakaway were subsequently banished from the sport.
In the meantime, the ISU were accelerating a process they had been considering before the 2002 scandal, namely a revision of the judging system which involved a greater emphasis on technical correctness and, critically, did not show how the votes had gone.
This switch to “secret voting” was championed by Cinquanta as freeing judges from potential pressure from federations. The opposing argument was made at the time that this could also have the reverse effect, preventing the public and media from being able to identify any suspicious judging marks.
Secret voting – known as the International Judging System or Code of Points, was first employed at the 2003 World Championships in Washington DC, during which Cinquanta was relentlessly booed for his unpopular new system and the way in which he had handled the previous year’s scandal.
It was a crucial period of his Presidency when he faced down widespread dissension. Having arrived in his position with the sport at a high point following an attention-grabbing 1994 Winter Games at which the lurid storylines of the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan's rivalry seized worldwide attention beyond the sportspages, the Italian effectively provided over a gradual falling away of interest.
The annual $22 million (£15 million/€19 million) deal the ISU had with ABC Broadcasting in the United States ended in 2004, and there were no subsequent offers other than one from ESPN, who bought up cable TV rights for the next four years for just $5m (£3.4 million/€4.3 million).
That was symptomatic of new economic realities, a shift in public interest and - many believed - a failure to steer the sport in the right direction.
US Olympic gold medallist Scott Hamilton, the NBC commentator, criticised the time it took for the new system to operate, which affected the flow of its presentation on TV.
There were also criticisms that, with its emphasis on the measureable technical and physical factors of a performance, artistry was being diminished, which in turn lessened the appeal of the sport.
Co-commentator Sandra Bezic was quoted in Kelli Lawrence’s Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport, bemoaning the diminishing possibility for the sport to produce the Wow Factor: “you want to base it on that performance that makes people leap from their seats ten seconds before it’s over - but if it wasn’t totally clean, that performance won’t be properly recognised. And that, to me is heart-breaking.”
Cinquanta was also criticised, whether fairly or not, for not supporting the professional circuit onto which skaters such as 1988 Olympic champion Katerina Witt and the British 1984 Olympic ice dance champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had progressed. There were many in the sport who felt that the emphasis on originality and personality which had for so many years attracted and retained the public’s interest had been invalidated and replaced by basic and far less beautiful activity.
Cinquanta’s own evaluation of his own stewardship of the sport, given recently to Agence France-Presse, was a little more positive: "We have improved many things," Cinquanta he said. "We increased the number of international events, the number of skaters.
"We have introduced a new judging system for figure skating, we have improved the financial situation, which is not bad considering the current international crisis.
"And we have more medals at the [Olympic] Games.”
But Cinquanta’s legacy, created in the wake of Olympic scandal, was paradoxically at the heart of another Games controversy in Sochi two years ago.
The decision to award 17-year-old home skater Adelina Sotnikova gold over the defending champion from South Korea, Yuna Kim, who had given a sumptuous performance, drew huge protests, although the home spectators were not among those objecting.
More than two million people signed a Change.or petition demanding an investigation into the decisions, and an official complaint was made by the South Korean Olympic Committee.
The nine-judge panel was made up of a majority of Eastern Bloc nations. The voting was, of course, anonymous. But it became known that one of the judges, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine, had previously been suspended for a year after being caught on camera allegedly trying to fix an event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Another judge, Alla Shekhovtseva, is the wife of the former President and current general director of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, Valentin Piseev. Cinquanta still insisted that the judges scoring should remain anonymous so that "nobody can detect which score has been decided by which judge."
In April 2014, a petition was set up calling for Cinquanta’s resignation as ISU President in light of the "severe damage he is inflicting on the sport".
The petition focused particularly on figure skating and was begun by four "disenfranchised members of the skating community" consisting of two former skaters in the ex-world champion and Olympic silver medalist Tim Wood and the five-time US pairs silver medalist Bill Fauver, as well as technical specialist Tim Gerber and journalist Monica Friedlander.
It began by insisting that Italy's Cinquanta had presided over "the most dramatic decline in the popularity of figure skating in the sport's history", before adding that "it is time for him to resign".
It claimed that Cinquanta was a "speed skater who, by his own admission, does not understand figure skating, and in fact shows no appreciation for its artistic side".
Among the specific criticisms then cited were problems continuing to affect the judging system.
And the manner of the Italian’s leadership in the last 14 years is now being challenged by those jockeying to take his place.
Gailhaguet’s manifesto, entitled Change or Be Changed, is focused on modernising and improving the presentation of events and reforming the governing body. The question of judging is one of his most pressing concerns.
"To uphold the integrity of fair competition and to ensure full transparency, I believe judges need to be protected but also open with their scores - which will also help the watching public to understand our disciplines better,” he writes.
Making the sport more accessible to television viewers is another aim, with the Frenchman keen to promote new events such as ice derby and crash ice - downhill - skating, as well as mass start long-track and elimination short-track speed skating competitions.
Before first becoming FFSG President in 1998, Gailhaguet was a multiple national champion ice skater, who enjoyed a best finish of seventh at the 1974 European Championships in Zagreb and placed 13th at the Sapporo 1972 Winter Olympics.
If successful, he would become the first figure skating official to run the ISU in 36 years.
Cinquanta and Norwegian predecessor Olaf Poulsen, who led from 1980 to 1994, were both from the speed skating community.
Buchanan’s manifesto also makes clear a deep unease with the current state of the organisation, stressing: “I believe honesty and integrity should be at the core of our sport and organisations. In order to restore credibility and build sustainability I will move the ISU towards an environment of complete transparency.”
A "complete overhaul" of the ISU Judging System is envisaged in order to "re-engage with the public and athletes".
This, Buchanan adds, must be more open and clear as well as easily understandable for the press and public.
"This will be done by collaboration with the Technical Committees and ISU member countries - not by the imposition from the centre that has been the style of operation we have seen for many years," he claims.